The Nuts are Falling

It’s autumn here in Pennsylvania. As I type this I look at the thermometer and the temperature has dipped to a cool 46 degrees and the air conditioner has not run for days. It is early on Monday and normally I would be headed out to swim, bike, or run in preparation for the next “thing” which should be the Steamtown marathon.

Back in July I was doing an early morning 7 miler on the nearby Exeter River trail and managed to roll my foot/ankle at the one mile mark. Being a smart runner, I walked a bit and then decided to finish my 7 mile run. The foot felt fine and as a precautionary measure a smart runner would then go home, apply ice and rest. Instead, I took a 3 hour bus ride to New York, walked around Manhattan, saw a show, and then a 3 hour ride back home. Needless to say my foot stiffened and swelled sidelining me for a few days.

img_1911
Probably should have stopped running when I rolled it.

No matter. A bit of rest and icing and things should be fine. And it was. Two weeks later, I was back on the river trail trotting merrily on my way on a beautiful summer morning, I rolled the same foot again. This time I was 2 miles from the car. After a large amount of swearing, I hobbled my way back, returned home and iced. This was annoying. It also didn’t feel like I had really stepped on anything big but rather a small stone or something. The foot did not swell as bad and certainly not continuing to run helped, so a few days later I was back at the running regimen. I was ramping up speedwork and mileage in preparation for Steamtown. On Saturday of Labor Day weekend, I was planning to meet some friends early to get in a 20 miler. I arrived ahead of everyone else to do a 5 mile out and back run before the planned 15 miler with the group. At 1/4 mile into my 5 miler, my foot disappeared into a groove in the pavement and rolled . . . again. Any residents of Malvern who might be early risers heard some colorful language floating in from the street.

foul_language
Foul language filled the Malvern air

I sat on a bench for a moment nearly vomiting from the throbbing pain in my left foot. I hobbled back to the car angry and frustrated as my hopes of a 2018 BQ slipped away.

The week of Labor Day is vacation week for us. I spend a delightful week every year on the Virginia coast crabbing, fishing, relaxing. Usually I run and ride through this trip. I decided to give my foot a week to heal and only rode my bike the 19 miles needed to pick up a rental car. Otherwise I lounged about until Saturday when I decided to take a conservative run around the island. I was able to do so without foot pain and without finding a pebble or quark particle laying around to step on and roll my foot.

relaxing
Not worrying about running

I returned from vacation and continued to run including some hill repeats in the dark. I raced a local 5K and a sprint triathlon. Running got faster, easier, farther. I felt like I was out of the woods. Apparently I should have stayed out of the woods.

Last Friday I met my early morning Wegman’s crew where I planned a very easy 6 miles with the only real goal of enjoying a cup of coffee afterward as we lounged about the Wegman’s cafe. I ran 3 miles out, looped and was going at an easy jog with a couple friends along the beautiful, wooded, Chester Valley Trail. The CVT is a paved trail through Chester County Pennsylvania. It is the pride and joy of the local communities who keep it open and immaculate all year long. This particular morning, there was a light coating of early fall leaves and the ever-present walnuts. Walnuts are a land-mine in the dark for runners. They hide among fallen leaves and provide the perfect opportunity to self-injure with a misplaced step on a rolling nut. I thought I was being careful. My bright Fenix flashlight lit the way. Since the ankle rolling adventures began, I had been taking extra care to watch where I was running. But I guess the combination of easy conversation and leaves hid a small nut from my site and in the blink of an eye my left foot went over. F#$@#$%!@!$#!!!! Another limping mile+ walk back to Wegman’s where I sat forlornly with ice on my ankle listening to others anticipation of coming marathons. I was pretty sure the idea of doing Steamtown was pretty . . er . . nutty at this point

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While beautiful, there are nuts in them thar leaves. 

Any one of these incidents were not, by themselves, major injuries. But cumulatively, my foot is now sore and swollen, and I am afraid the ligaments and tendons have become weak and stretched. The last “roll” would have been a non factor if the other 3 hadn’t happened. As it is, I’m sidelined and waiting an orthopedic appointment. I suspect the outcome will be no marathon, a prescription for PT, and a recommendation to strengthen the ankles.

Okay . . plan B. I decided to have a weekend-long pity party. I ate. I drank. I ate. I decided Monday I would hit the pool for an hour of pool running. At least I could keep up my running fitness. In the meantime, my other fall activity beckoned. I am an avid hunter and love pursuing whitetailed deer with archery equipment. I have done this successfully for many years and enjoy, healthy, low-fat meat all year as a by product.img_1497 The most effective way to do this is by hunting from an elevated platform called a treestand. Yesterday (Sunday) I had set aside time to visit one of my hunting spots and hang a couple of treestands. Normally, I do this with a hunting partner. It’s safer and easier. But my partners were unavailable and the season starts next week so I figured I’d better get it done.

These days I’d much prefer to use my climbing treestand. This apparatus allows me to get in the stand at ground level and slowly work my way up the tree by levering the seat and then the platform. The alternative is to use some sort of steps attached to the tree and climb to a pre-hung platform. Climbing stands require a straight tree. There are few of these on the New Jersey property I hunt so we use the pre-hung platforms.

treestand
A typical treestand for deer hunting.

Like safety belts in cars, there are some folks that pooh-poo safety harnesses while working in trees. I am never up a tree without one. For years I used cheap belts or a homemade rope of some sort but a couple years ago I invested in a very expensive, top quality harness for hunting out of a treestand. I use it diligently every time I go up a tree.

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My safety harness

I was working in a large, old cherry tree hanging a steel treestand. I had pulled the stand up, fastened the chain securely, and stepped on to the platform. I wiggled my feet a bit to set the stand in place when suddenly there was a snap. The bolt holding the chain to the stand had sheared off. I was about 15 feet in the air. My hands and arms instinctively grabbed for the tree and I unsuccessfully tried to catch myself. I slid downward gouging the flesh of my arms, stomach, and chest along the bark. Then I was free falling. I remember being surprisingly calm thinking “My belt will catch me”. It seemed to take an eternity for the adjustable length belt to take up the slack and tighten up. I heard the rope that attaches to the tree “hiss” as it tightened. Suddenly I came to a stop just a couple feet from the ground. I hadn’t been careful about adjusting the length of the belt for the size of the tree but still . . I hadn’t “landed” which was good.

My heart raced. I gasped for air. The adrenaline pumped through my veins. My fingers, forearms, and chest throbbed and burned from the pain of sliding along the bark. I glanced at my forearms and fingers. I was bleeding a bit but it didn’t look serious. I scrambled with my feet to get a foothold. I was dangling like a Christmas ornament. “Calm down. Just hang here for a moment”. Realizing I was safe, I let myself calm down and then studied the tree. I was able to grasp the tree and work my way around to the side the steps were on. I shuddered when I realized how much worse things would have been if I fell on that side of the tree. I was able to unhook myself and climb down.

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The aftermath of sliding down a tree. I also lost my watch. 

As I sit here and type this, the scrapes and gouges have stopped hurting. My left elbow is a bit sore from hitting a branch on the way down, and my right glute/leg is sore from taking the brunt of the leg harness. I did not go pool run this morning. I doubt the other pool users would take kindly to my multiple open scrapes. I thought about riding the trainer this morning too . . but it is a bit painful to sit in a cushy desk chair so probably not.

I guess it is time to lick my wounds and heal. There will be other marathons and if I don’t make Boston in 2018 it won’t be the end of the world.

The nuts are falling on the trail to be stepped on, and from the trees after climbing up . . . nuts are everywhere. Be careful out there!

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3 Comments

  1. I’m catching up and I am glad that I waited to read this one. I always fear that my husband will fall out of his stand. I went away for a week of work in the fall and came home to 4400 walnuts all over our yard. They are a lot of work.

    1. I will never hang or take down stands by myself again. Make sure he has a good safety harness and ALWAYS uses it, ideally from the ground up. And don’t buy cheap treestands from Wal-Mart or Dicks.

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